Swimming in the time of COVID-19: What’s safe?
For many families, summertime means backyard barbecues, fireworks displays, and afternoons spent at the public pool or beach. But with cases of COVID-19 surging around the globe, summer traditions look different this year.
With some pools and beaches closed, many may be wondering if swimming is completely off the table. Fortunately, there are ways to keep you and your family safe both in and out of the water.
“Chlorine does kill the coronavirus. We know that,” says Naresh Rao, DO, an osteopathic family practitioner and team physician for USA Water Polo. “But it’s not so much about the water, but rather what happens when you congregate close to each other in the pool or on the deck.”
At a minimum, Dr. Rao says, the basic principles of social distancing, hygiene, and mask-wearing apply while out of the pool. He encourages swimmers to keep a safe distance within the pool as well.
However, Dr. Rao emphasizes there are many complexities to this pandemic, adding that each person should evaluate the situation case by case and determine their comfort level.
Take water safety seriously—especially during the pandemic
Now, during the pandemic, when visits to lifeguard-monitored pools and beaches are limited, parents may be setting up pools in their yards to keep children active and engaged. Even small pools can present a danger, and Dr. Rao reminds parents to keep watch even when the water level is low.
“Given many of us are distracted and trying to balance entertaining our educating our kids while also managing work,” Dr. Rao says, “It’s more important than ever for parents to practice good water safety.”
Dry drowning, delayed drowning or secondary drowning
If a child inhales a substantial amount of water, it can linger in their lungs after swim time is over. In rare cases, this can lead to a respiratory infection that develops over the course of several days. Tragically, there are a few cases where subsequent pneumonia led to death.
In these circumstances, the medically inaccurate and outdated terms “dry drowning,” “secondary drowning” or “delayed drowning” have been used by the media, says Dr. Rao.
According to Dr. Rao, while the terminology is inaccurate, it is helpful for parents to understand the limited risk involved. If a child suffers from fatigue, vomiting, ongoing coughing, or labored breathing, they should consult their pediatrician.
Water safety tips
“Despite the enhanced safety measures required by the virus, I still encourage parents to consider enrolling their children in swim lessons,” says Dr. Rao. “Not only are lessons one of the best ways to prevent drowning, but the exercise can also improve physical and mental wellbeing—something we can all benefit from right now.”
Other swim safety tips include:
- Learn CPR and refresh skills frequently.
- Monitor water sources closely. This includes bathtubs, kiddie pools and even buckets of standing water.
- Use life jackets or other flotation devices.